It took me several weeks before my mosquito-bites from French Polynesia were cured, but here in New Zealand, I got attacked several times by sandflies. And they are much more irritating than the mosquito bites.
Most of the time, I was attacked on the most idyllic beaches. Several times, at the end of walks in coastal areas, I rested on some nice, white beaches, putting shorts and t-shirt on, and taking off shoes and socks. To realise after a while, that I am covered in little black flies, which really enjoyed sucking the blood out of my arms, hands, legs and feet. Ever been bitten on the inside of your hands? I can assure you, it drives you crazy when you start to scratch it. So, I learned the hard way: the nice looking beaches are not to sit on: they are just to look at, and property of the sandflies (especially if they are called “sandfly bay” or “sandfly beach”).
Also, in Milford Sound, you see clouds of these little bloodsuckers.
But still, it will not stop me from walking around (but I don’t take off my socks and shoes anymore).
Easter Weekend (Friday till Monday) is a very busy weekend for the New Zealander. Last Weekend to take holidays before the winter really starts. And you notice this on the roads.
I decided to go back to the mountains but now the east part of it. I wanted to do some more walks there, and maybe see Mt Cook.
It looked like most of the traffic was heading to Wanaka (the little village I liked so much): there was a big international 2-yearly airshow with old warplanes.
I was heading to the other side of the Southern Alps: Mount Cook. This is the highest mountian in New Zealand, but it lost in 1991 10 metres in altitude, as the peak did come down.
The weather was clear, so all of the 22 +3000 meter mountains in Mt Cook national park were visible. Camping with a view on these mountains gives you a great feeling.
I enjoyed walking around in the national park, as well as in the area of lake Tekapo. It has a turquoise colour, which gives a great view with the snowcapped mountains around it.
I walked up Mount John, which has an observatory (astronomy) on top of it (the gate was closed, so I couldn’t bring them a visit). On top, it was extremely windy (I was almost blown away), but a breathtaking view of the lake.
Pinguins: they are supposed to be everywhere here on the coast of New-Zealand (west-, south-, East-coast). And different kinds: NZ crested pinguins, little blue pinguins, yellow-eyed pinguins.
I have performed numerous walks on the search to see them. After several walks on the West coast, I found out that the season for seeing the crested pinguins is Oct to Dec. After that they disappear (nobody knows where they go to, but each year they come back). So, instead of viewing these crested pinguins, I most of the times was severly bitten by sandflies, but no pinguins.
My next aim was then to spot yellow-eyed pinguins on the East coast. This time, I had done some research, and definitely, it was the season to spot them. Again, I did several walks. In the afternoon, early in the morning, but … again no luck. I knew the most chance was around sunrise or sunset. Probably, I was either too late or too early. The closest I was, you can see is a footprint in Otago Peninsula. I could follow their track to the sea. Too late … they just left (it was a nice morning walk).
You can spot them in some zoo-type of environment in Otago Peninsula, but that was not what I wanted. Next time more luck!
It looked to be a nice sunny day. That would be needed, because the water in the fjord Milford Sound is not that warm.
The diveclub was very organised. It was a small boat with 5 divers, 1 guide and 1 captain. But it all went very smooth. Everybody in their wetsuits already before boarding, and on board, we were given extra hats, gloves and a jacket, not to be cold.
The reason to dive in Milford Sound : there is continuously a layer of fresh water on top of salt water. This causes the salt water to be darker, and therefore animals that are normally found in deeper water can now be seen already at 10-20 metres. There is this layer of fresh water, because it rains a lot in MS. I mean: really a lot: in Belgium for example, annually you have around 800 mm/year, in MS: 8000 mm/year. So, to visit MS without rain, is a lucky day.
During the first dive, a seal was continuously swimming with us. They are very playfull in the water (but at the end, I was cautious because he was showing his teeth all the time and I didn’t know if it would bite). There were some nice thing to notice that I hadn’t seen before (some type of nudibranchs, black coral (which is in fact white), snakestar, …)
The only thing which I regretted a bit is that most of the divers were very unexperienced. So, there were not so much photograph-circumstances (sand being kicked up). But also, divers having boyancy problems, … (this means that I was a lot busy with looking at other divers).
To surface with such a beautifull view around you, gives a special feeling (mountains all around you).
The diving didn’t feel “that” cold. In between the dives, we were given warm soup and they put some hot water in our wetsuits. Again hats, gloves and jackets and we could cruise further in the fjord (we went all the way to the Tasman Sea and back).
It was a relaxing day and everything was done to keep us as warm and comfortable as possible.
Yesterday evening, the diveclub informed us that the diving in Milford Sound would be postponed with 1 day: weather forecast for Tuesday were just too cold and snow would be on the road.
They told me, if I wanted to drive myself to Milford Sound, I had to carry snowchains, as I have to go over a pass of 1000 meters and the snow limit will be at 500 m. This promised a cold night!
And cold: it definitely was! I was fully burried under the duvets, head as well. This morning, I had to remove the ice from the windows of the campervan. And definitely, the snow has now dropped to 500m. At the DOC office, for all the walks you want to do, they warn you about the bad conditions (snow on the tracks) and the cold (it is “minus” currently).
Today will thus be a resting day for me. I have to save my energy for tomorrow: diving in cold water will ask a lot of my body to keep it warm, especially as I will be out on the water for 5 ours (a good excuse to take in some calories today). At least the weather forecast looks OK for tomorrow in MS (but in MS, you never know), and the freezing limit will rise again to 1200m.
Te Anau is not really a nice village to be, but the surrounding landscape is great. Lots of big multi-day walks start here. The only reason the village has been put on the map is because you have to pass it to go to Milford Sound. If you look at the map, you see that MS is close to Queenstown, but there is no direct road to it. You have to do a really big detour, passing Te Anau. This means a ong drive for the busses coming from QT. They all stop here for a coffee (and petrol, as there is no petrol between TA and MS). So 2 times a day, the little village is loaded with busses, and in between, it is very quiet .
Te Anau is now getting a bit worried because they are talking of building a road QT-MS. This would mean TA will disappear from the map again (but it will not be for the first coming years).
At the DOC, I just read that an Israelian tramper (“tramping” is what “walking” is called in NZ) had to be evacuated by helicopter from the Routeburn track (having hypothermia). She was totally unprepared for walking here (weather is never stable and it can go from sunshine to snow). She was wearing sneakers (no walking boots), cotton (t-shirts, jeans, sweater), no thermal clothes, no raincoat. When the DOC and hut guards warned the group that she was not wel-prepared for the walk, they replied that it wouldn’t be a problem as they had just finnished their army training in Israel.
I would call this pretty arrogant to ignore advise from people that know the area so well.
I had heard so much about Queenstown. It is the “adventure capital of the world”. Every organised tour stops here. Lots of things can be organised here, of course for a very nice price.
So I thought that after the peacefull area of Wanaka, I would start to feel stress again in such a busy place.
The drive towards Queenstown was very nice (again I have to say this). And approaching QT, I realised that I would have to change my idea about it. The setting of the city is so beautifull with the lake and the mountains, and the city itself is quite enjoyable (at least for such a busy place). Probably in summer, it is packed with people, but I didn’t have this feeling now (you notice that it is low season now).
I had no plans to do bungy jumping or jetboating (my money goes to diving), but took a look where it all takes place.
At night, it really starts to become very cold (there seem to be an Antarctic cold front coming over Souther New Zealand). And yes, the snow limit on the mountains has lowered again in the morning. (I am sleeping now with 2 duvets, and this is comfortable to sleep. But getting dressed in the morning in the cold camper is not so comfortable. Brr!)